England’s national parks fail to fight climate and nature crisis says report

National Parks are failing to step up to the climate change crisis according to a report launched today (2 October) and supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Overall woodland cover across all national parks in England is less than 15% and several of England’s most iconic national parks (including the Yorkshire Dales) have lower woodland cover than our large cities.

Mapping by Friends of the Earth shows some national parks could have up to seven times more woodland than they currently do while important habitats, such as peatbogs, were found to be in worse condition in national parks than in the rest of England.

England’s national parks were once filled with temperate rainforests and wild woods. Today the overall woodland cover across all national parks in England is less than 15%. Friends of the Earth analysis has found that this could be more than doubled to 34%, without damaging other important habitats such as peatbogs.

Friends of the Earth’s survey of National Park Authority reveals that very little woodland has been created over the past five years. Six out of the ten English national parks do not record this data – an oversight that Friends of the Earth is calling to be changed.

In addition to woodland failures, data obtained from Natural England by Friends of the Earth revealed that only 26% of protected habitat within national parks (such as peatlands) is in a healthy state. This is far less than England as a whole, where 39% of protected habitat is in a healthy state. When peatlands such as blanket bog are in good condition, they act as carbon sinks and help fight the climate crisis.

Friends of the Earth trees campaigner, Danny Gross, said: “England’s national parks have not risen to the challenge of the climate and nature crisis. This isn’t even listed in their core purposes set out by the government.

“National parks cover roughly a tenth of England’s land and offer enormous opportunities for natural climate solutions, such as woodland creation and peatland restoration, which would also go a long way to support new wildlife.

“We have a chance to make England’s national parks trailblazers for natural climate solutions such as woodland and other precious habitats. It’s time for National Park Authorities, the government and landowners to step up and work together to fight the climate crisis.”

ACE contacted the Yorkshire Dales National Park press office for a comment on the report and a response is expected. When received, it will be added to  this posting.

In the meantime the YDNP (Yorkshire Dales National Park) has sent the following response to the Friends of the Earth report by National Parks England which represents the 10 National Parks in England and in this case is speaking for the Yorkshire Dales. Any response from the YDNP will be reported when received.

“We are all witnessing the effects of climate change on our landscapes and communities.  The climate emergency demands urgent action to reduce emissions and National Parks have a critical role to play through peatland restoration, woodland creation, encouraging low carbon farming practices and development, and facilitating sustainable transport for residents and visitors.  The Management Plans for each National Park all address the climate crisis through seeking reductions in greenhouse gases and identifying the risks and opportunities from adapting to it.

The Friends of the Earth report acknowledges the “major barriers” facing National Park Authorities (NPAs) and the need to make sure trees are planted in the right places.  Broad mapping of the sort undertaken is helpful, but it also needs to be informed by the local knowledge of areas and their communities.  Only a very small amount of a National Park is owned by the NPA so securing new woodland requires close partnerships with landowners and managers.  NPA staff are well placed to work with farmers and landowners to encourage nature recovery; trees, woodlands, orchards, meadows, bogs and mires, and the more active management of existing woodland.

Collectively England’s National Parks have ambitious plans to create at least 11,000 ha of new woodland, and to restore 45,000 ha of peatland within the next ten years.  The contribution of each National Park to these targets will vary in recognition of their very different environments.  Every National Park is, meanwhile, heavily involved in supporting the development of the Government’s new Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMS) which will be a critical way to achieve carbon capture, nature recovery and better landscapes for people and nature.

But ambition alone won’t deliver if the tool-box is empty.  We have urged Government to ensure the Nature Climate Fund prioritises projects in National Parks and AONBs.  We have supported calls by the independent Landscapes Review for National Parks to have a bigger role in the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme.  And we have called for more effective levers to deliver more wooded landscapes in the Government’s forthcoming Tree Strategy.

We share the ambition of many more trees in England’s National Parks, but to achieve it will require big improvements in resources, tools, and partnerships, and for that we need Government support.”

You can read the full report at: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/trees/englands-national-parks-fail-fight-climate-nature-crisis

The full briefing Missing in action: Natural climate solutions in England’s national parks and summary Friends of the Earth recommendations is online at: https://policy.friendsoftheearth.uk/insight/missing-action-natural-climate-solutions-englands-national-parks

Barry White


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